NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: An unusual ministry.
Last year Mike Due and his wife, Cindy, returned to the piney woods of East Texas. That’s where their family’s roots run deep. What doesn’t run deep there are the coffers of the rural Apple Springs Baptist Church where he now serves as a bi-vocational pastor.
EICHER: A woodworker by trade but a pastor by calling Due gladly took on the dual role because the two trades have become inextricably linked as he uses custom woodworking to communicate the gospel message.
Due built his workshop and the cabin where he and his wife live just outside Groveton, Texas. That’s where WORLD Radio correspondent Bonnie Pritchett caught up with the carpenter pastor.
DUE: I’m gonna rough cut it right there. Smell that.
BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: Mike Due holds a freshly cut strip of East Texas Yellow Pine to his nose and breaths in the resin’s pungent aroma. The scent hangs in the air of the spacious workshop he built to accommodate what he hopes will be a thriving woodworking business to supplement his ministry.
AUDIO: [Table saw cutting wood]
But being unknown in Groveton, Texas—population 1,034 —Due has not yet built the customer base he’d like. Slowly, orders are coming in: custom cabinets, tables. But no orders yet for his signature piece.
He does have one ready for sale. Because of its size Due stores it in a seldom accessed hall at the church.
DUE: You might want to pull that end around as we come around the corner…
Buried under layers of moving blankets the heavy piece sits on a gurney-like contraption. Due maneuvers it through the halls to the brightly lit church entryway where he pulls back the covers.
DUE: The hardest thing to build on these is actually the lid…it has to be strong enough to, and this sounds terrible, it has to be strong enough to hold a lot of dirt on top.
That’s right. Dirt. Some of Due’s finest craftsmanship will be buried under six feet of dirt, but he doesn’t mind—he insists that building caskets, and burying them— is part of gospel work.
DUE: The gospel is the preparation for death. And the two are innately tied together.
Back at their two-and-a half-acre lot, Due is surrounded by what he has built for his work and family — a workshop, a cabin home and the white oak dining table where he sits. He explains why he ministers to the living by caring for the dead.
DUE: In my first full-time pastorate we had an elderly family. And a mean, grumpy old man. Abusive. And I had the pleasure, or the privilege, of leading him to the Lord…
When the man died, Due helped the family with funeral arrangements. But the couple’s burial policy came up $2,500 short. Basically, the cost of a casket.
DUE: And so, I called the funeral director and said, “Well, we’re going to build the casket.” He was real quiet for a second and he said, “Wait a second, Brother Mike. I make my living selling caskets. And if you’re going to do that, that’s fine. But all the costs that I gave you are off the table…” And, so, we ultimately paid the $2,500 and got the casket.
Due learned that some people couldn’t afford to die.
Today, he is armed with experience and an inordinate knowledge of funeral regulatory law. And he realizes his church could have, and probably should have, done so much more for that family than just provide a casket.
He believes churches have unnecessarily abdicated an essential ministry to a secular business. It’s a ministry that goes beyond providing low-cost caskets.
DUE: The church ought to take back charge of the ministry of grieving and the gospel in the middle of that…The church can step up and take back what used to be their ministry in the first place as far as funerals are concerned…
From dressing the body to using the church van as a hearse, Due insists congregations are well equipped to offer the services most people assume are required of the funeral professionals. He said those businesses have a role to play, but they don’t have to do everything.
When a church arranges the funeral and offers its sanctuary, fellowship hall – and the best cooks in town – it turns a business transaction into a ministry. That’s especially true for families in the community who, in their grief, do not have the hope found in Christ.
DUE: The money savings is great, but the contact and the love, you can’t pay for that. You just can’t do it.
AUDIO: [Computer guided drill]
Today he’s experimenting with his newest tool, a computer-guided drill. He inspects and approves the design it carved into the piece of old pine he cut earlier.
DUE: Well, something old and wore out just, uh, turned into something pretty nice here…
Whether making a casket for a stranger or loved one, Due prays over them all. He wept over one.
The filigreed heart he made will make a nice addition to an urn he’s been asked to make for his step-mother’s ashes. He hopes that what he creates will honor her and please the family.
DUE: So, part of me is in the box. Do everything that you can and when I meet with them maybe I’ll have the opportunity to point them to the Lord and give them this box.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Bonnie Pritchett reporting from the piney woods of East Texas.